4 Key Questions to Ask When Interviewing Potential Employees

by Kathryn Hawkins

2 min read

You’re working to fill a high-level position and have narrowed the field of job applicants to three promising candidates. It’s time to bring them in for interviews. Your goal is to move beyond their glowing resumes and get a peek at their professional souls. But you’re unsure what types of questions will help you accomplish this. The Intuit Small Business Blog recently talked with a few hiring managers and small-business owners about the key questions they like to ask when interviewing potential employees. Here’s what they said.

When did you begin to work and why? This question can tell you a lot about your candidate’s work ethic. “The best responses are those where the candidate began doing a job such as cutting grass, shoveling snow, or working retail in high school or before,” says Bill Humbert, owner of the recruitment website RecruiterGuy.com. Research shows that an individual’s work ethic is typically developed during childhood, so early jobs are a good indicator that the candidate will be a dedicated worker. If the interviewee didn’t do paid work, ask what he or she did instead. If he spent 20 hours a week at football practice or caring for four younger siblings while his mother worked, he’ll likely have the drive you’re looking for. If he tells you he watched I Love Lucy marathons every afternoon, he’s probably not the one you want.


What is the biggest mistake you’ve
 ever made on the job? Anyone can brag about past successes, but an employee who learns from her mistakes is a valuable asset. Thus, it’s important to be able to discuss failures openly and honestly. Ask the candidate for details about what she did wrong, and encourage her to reflect on what she’d do differently next time around. If a candidate can’t come up with a response, “they are either lying or they have never taken chances — and thus are unlikely to
 help grow the business,” says Guy Smith, principal and chief consultant for Silicon Strategies Marketing.

What do you 
find most and least attractive about this position? To best fill that open position, you want a candidate who isn’t looking for a job — he’s looking for this specific job. This question will help you determine how well the candidate understands your company, what’s required in the role, and his attitude toward it. “If the 
least attractive thing is one of the job’s main functions, it probably won’t
be a good fit down the road,” says Crissy Gershey, vice president of sales and marketing for Parties That Cook, a company that stages team-building cooking parties for Fortune 500 companies.

How many windows are there in New York City? Sara Schoonover, vice president of the legal service TicketKick, asks this question to potential employees, knowing that they can’t answer it on the spot. However, their responses provide valuable insight into how they approach difficult questions. “It gives 
the interviewer a way to see how the candidate deals with [solving] problems,” she says. “Did they
 attempt to figure it out at all, or did they immediately give up?” These types of questions are legendary in Silicon Valley for helping to measure how well candidates think on their feet.

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